Gerald Grace v. Smith Foundry Co. et. al.

Gerald Grace v. Smith Foundry Co. et. al., No. WC18-6153 (W.C.C.A. August 30, 2018)

On September 2, 2015, the Employee was working for the Employer, Smith Foundry, when his left arm was jerked while pouring from a crucible of molten iron. During the same shift, the Employee had to rest due to symptoms of heat stroke but did not complain of arm or neck pain at the time. On September 23, 2015, the Employee was seen complaining of pain in the left elbow and weakness in the left hand and fingers. The Employee was diagnosed with lateral epicondylitis and began conservative treatment. In April 2016, the Employee underwent a carpal tunnel release surgery in the left hand and the pre-op appointment noted that the examination of the neck showed no abnormalities.

In April 2017, Dr. Elizabeth Plocher examined the Employee and opined that there was a cervical spine contribution to the Employee’s condition and recommended an EMG and a cervical spine MRI. On June 2, 2017, the Employee was seen for a neurological referral with Dr. Vanda Niemi, in which it was suspected that the Employee experienced an asymptomatic neck injury as part of the September 2, 2015 work injury. Eventually, surgery was recommended for cervical stenosis.

The Employee was seen by Dr. Joel Gedan for an independent medical examination on July 31, 2017. Dr. Gedan opined that the Employee was currently diagnosed with a lateral epicondylitis and left carpal tunnel syndrome but that the work injury did not affect his neck and the MRI findings were not related to the work injury. Dr. Gedan agreed that the proposed cervical fusion was reasonable and necessary but that it was unrelated to the work injury. Dr. Gedan opined that the Employee’s left carpal tunnel had resolved and was at MMI but declined to offer an opinion on the Employee’s elbow condition. On November 1, 2017, the Employee’s treating physician issued an MMI determination, as of June 13, 2017, with respect to the Employee’s left elbow and assigned 0% PPD for the condition.

At trial, the compensation judge found that the Employee did not suffer an injury to the cervical spine on September 2, 2015, the Employee was not entitled to TTD or rehabilitation benefits and that the Employee reached MMI from the effects of the work injury on June 13, 2017, with effective notices on November 2, 2017. The Employee appealed the findings of the compensation judge.

The Employee disagreed with the determination that he reached MMI with respect to his left elbow condition on June 13, 2017, pointing to medical records that continued to show left elbow symptoms after June 2017 and to Dr. Gedan report in which he declined to provide an opinion on the Employee’s left elbow. The WCCA disagreed, finding that there was substantial evidence to support the compensation judge’s conclusion that the Employee had reached MMI for the left elbow on June 13, 2017.

Further, the WCCA found that because it was reasonable for the compensation judge to conclude that the Employee’s cervical spine condition was unrelated to the September 2, 2015 work injury, the Employee was not entitled to TTD benefits and that the Employee was no longer a “qualified employee” for purposes of eligibility for rehabilitation benefits.

Lastly, the Employee contended that the compensation judge erred in relying on the opinions of Dr. Gedan regarding causation and on Dr. Falconer, one of the Employee’s treating physicians, with respect to MMI. The WCCA found that, based upon a review of the record, the compensation judge’s reliance on the opinions of Drs. Gedan and Falconer were supported by substantial evidence. As such, the compensation judges’ findings and order was affirmed.